October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and like all cause-of-the-month crusades, the objective is to bring attention to a problem that prefers to stay quiet.
We applaud the special designation, but DV is a problem that needs year-around-attention. The abuse suffered at the hands of an intimate partner hurts families and much more; it impacts schools, social services and the criminal justice system.
Last year the Washington Department of Social and Health Services disbursed more than $10 million to emergency domestic violence shelters that provide crisis intervention, emergency shelter, legal advocacy and psychological counseling.
Pierce County is fortunate enough to have two local DV service providers, the YWCA and the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center. In 2016, they had contact with more than 20,000 victims and dependent children.
The goal is zero tolerance, but there’s a long way to go. Victims must be assured batterers will be held accountable.
Having such confidence is difficult when stories like Jessica Ann Marie Ortega’s come to light.
Early this month, Ortega’s family filed a lawsuit against the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department alleging the agency failed to protect the 27-year-old woman from the violent boyfriend who eventually killed her.
Ortega did all the right things. She contacted police. The mother of two obtained a temporary protective court order reporting that Marcos Perea had held a gun to her head for 45 minutes while saying it was her time to die.
Ortega wrote in her temporary order request that she was “in immediate danger of being murdered.”
According to the lawsuit, police had the opportunity to arrest Perea when they came to serve the order on Feb. 20, 2016. His car was in the garage and they thought they heard someone inside, but they made no contact and no arrest. “The defendants simply stood around and waited a few minutes and then left,” the suit says.
Hours later, Perea, whose anger burned hotter after Ortega contacted police, went to the University Place Care Center where Ortega worked and killed her. Police later shot and killed Perea after a freeway pursuit.
The courts will decide whether the Sheriff's Department violated its statutory duty. All we can say is the case is sickeningly familiar.
In 2008, Federal Way resident Baerbel Roznowski was murdered by her live-in boyfriend, Chan Ok “Paul” Kim. She also had filed an anti-harassment protective order.
When police delivered it, they told Kim to leave and took him at his word that he would go. Three hours later, Roznowski was found stabbed to death.
A jury found the City of Federal Way negligent and awarded $1.1 million to Roznowski’s survivors. The judgment was upheld on appeal.
Every day first responders intervene and rescue victims knowing there’s nothing routine about a domestic violence call. The reality hit home last year when Tacoma police Officer Jake Gutierrez was gunned down investigating a domestic disturbance.
But in 2015 there were close to 10,000 violations of no contact/protection orders in the state of Washington, and only half led to arrest. These numbers suggest we can do better.
There’s no easy fix to this problem, but protective orders are often enforced from the bottom up, through contact with law enforcement. Victims need to know their cries for help are being heard, that the community is doing everything in its power to protect them.
Let’s hope the chilling story of Jessica Ann Marie Ortega’s last days is a galvanizing moment. As YWCA Executive Director Miriam Barnett told us: “The more the community is aware of the issue of intimate partner violence, the more we can work together to end it.”